Nationals sign reliever Heath Bell to minor-league deal

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Apr 17, 2014; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher

Heath Bell

(13) throws a pitch during the sixth inning against the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Nationals added some depth to their bullpen Monday, signing closer Heath Bell to a minor-league deal with an invitation to big league spring training.

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In a rather unusual chain of events, the deal was announced by Bell himself in an essay for The Player’s Tribune, a website started by Derek Jeter. Chris Cotillo later reported that the deal was a minor league contract with an invite to big league camp.

Bell – a three-time All-Star – has 168 career saves with a 3.49 ERA in parts of 11 seasons with the Mets, Padres, Marlins, Diamondbacks and Rays. His best seasons came with the Padres in 2009, 2010 and 2011, in which he earned 42, 47 and 43 saves, respectively. Bell was selected to the National League All-Star team in all three seasons.

After his success with the Padres, however, Bell has not been able to regain his dominant form as a closer.

Bell, 37, struggled mightily with the Rays in 2014, going 1-1 with a 7.27 ERA in just 17 1/3 innings. The right-hander did not earn a save in 2014 and has not reached the 20-save mark in three years.

Despite his recent struggles, Bell will provide the Nationals with insurance in case of an injury to any of the team’s relievers and will get a chance to make the Opening Day bullpen this spring. While it’s unlikely that Bell will return to his dominant 2011 form, the deal is a no-risk, high-reward scenario for the Nationals and one that could pay off big time over the course of a 162-game season.

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